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What am I missing about the Sanctum Merit?

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  • What am I missing about the Sanctum Merit?

    I ask this question because as written it seem quite useless to myself and my players.

    Let me preface this by saying that I adore Mage, and have found running/playing 2nd edition to be one of the most rewarding experiences in a 10 year career of running/playing RPG's. I am not bashing the game one iota, just throwing out a personal bugbear and hoping to get your opinions on it.

    The wizards lab, sanctuary, workshop or ritual space is a beloved trope in much of the fiction that inspires Mage and its the type of thing I imagine many players want for their characters. Its perfect conceptual space for a merit. The current rules just seem to lack much utility. I can understand limiting the benefit to spells cast while your in the sanctum but it seems punishing to then lose the benefits once you leave. I originally thought the purpose of the merit was to make it easier to rig semi-permanent defensive spells like Wards and the like on your home, without having to burn WP dots, but by RAW your home defence spells become a spell control drag again the moment you leave the house. This leaves the number of situations where the merit is useful rather lacking in my opinion.

    I'm looking for a civilised discussion about the virtues of this merit, and possible alterations that people have used at your own tables. At my table I allowed the players to hang one permanent spell inside their shared Sanctum per dot of the merit without cost. What have you guys done? (Also feel free to come tell me its an amazing merit and doesn't need changing, I'm perfectly happy to be convinced!)

  • #2
    Well I and my table use it to gain more spell control slots. If you cast a spell inside the Sanctum it can be tied to the merit without screwing your spell control once you leave.
    Another thing I've been thinking about but not implemented yet (cus we don't play mage atm) is to allow a mage to cast a spell and relinquish it safely and permanently with just a willpower point instead of a dot if it's cast on something inside the sanctum or the sanctum itself and no more then one spell per dot in the merit.


    • #3
      That seems to be a popular house rule as I’ve seen others implement it.

      The main use RAW is basically to load up on spells you might consider to have useful running on your person when you don’t expect to be casting much else. For instance, running Life buff spells and then using those boosted abilities in mundane combat.

      It’s also useful for if you cast spells in the field that are still running and have you at your spell control limit and then go home and get the boost from Sanctum to cast other spells you might find useful while you’re there. Maybe you’re Gnosis 1 with a dot in Sanctum, you cast Oaths Fulfilled on someone out there, come back and cast Sympathetic Divinations on them to figure out what they’re going to do next, or Scrying to surveil them more closely.


      • #4
        The thing that really gives Sanctums their oomph is the Demesne addon, which grants unlimited reach to any spell that is the demesne's form is symbolically appropriate for.
        I had an adamantine arrow acanthus who built a battle prep area with a demesne and would hang spells with frightening levels of power on themselves in the sanctum.

        Mage: the Ascension - Redesigned Prime Sphere; Streamlined Wonder Creation
        Mage: the Awakening 2E - Hogwarts: the Wizarding World Chronicle
        Mummy: the Curse - Lightweight 2E Conversion; Disciples of Duat


        • #5
          The utility of the extra spells for your Sanctum is for you to use it as the place to conduct magical experiments, toying with different spells and such in a potentially more controlable space. Is not supose to boost your defensive capabilities, specially not while outside of it.

          I'm So Meta Even This Acronym


          • #6
            Nothing, the Sanctum merit is pretty rubbish until you turn it into a Demesne.

            What my group does is turn it into extra Spell Control, accessible only while the subject-matter of the spell resides within the Sanctum.
            This allows them to use it for sanctum defences, or long-running 'experiment' style spells, or buffs when they just want to do stuff within their Sanctum.


            • #7
              Worth noting that rotes are pretty much expressly viable spells to use when you're at or over your spell control limit and that the way the setting describes mages is very much not in terms of being always-on magical actors unless they're very bad at self-control

              Sanctums exist along the arm of the playstyle that recognizes what things like what instant casting requires and how Paradox pools worsen mean and give mages reason to maintain a base of operations from which to either conduct investigations remotely or secure the subjects of their studies long-term.

              The Merit's not there to feed the side of the game that gives you a panoply of free improvised powers and little immediate reason not to use them, it's there to support the cultural skew towards secrecy and ritual, both of which work better when you have a dedicated sacred space to draw down the godhead in.

              Resident Sanguinary Analyst
              Currently Consuming: Changeling: the Lost 1e


              • #8
                Our group focused on the Sanctum as the "tower" of a mage - the one place you did *not* want to have to fight its occupant(s). The Sanctum was also an important part of the lex magica - inviolable by other mages.

                To reflect that, reduce the Potency of any spell that targeted the owners of the Sanctum (any guests to whom they had extended their protection) by the Merit dots so long as they remain within its walls - unless they are knowing and willing subjects of the spell. This is meant to reflect all the wards and mystical defenses mages are likely to set up in their Sanctum, without all the tiresome, in-character fussing over long-lasting defensive spells. That, by itself, made attacking a mage in his Sanctum an unsavory prospect. Of course, it applies to the PCs' enemies as much as it does to them. When they realized that the local Seers had a Profane Urim and that taking it out of play would probably involve breaking into the Pylon's Sanctum...they knew what that would mean for their odds of success. And it encouraged them to find ways to draw as many of the vipers as possible out of their nest before executing this dangerous plan.

                In addition, all Sanctums are either registered with the local Consilum or secret.

                An officially registered Sanctum is a matter of public record within the mage community, but the owner of the Sanctum is also given a degree of control over the area within a few city blocks (possibly miles in less inhabited regions). Any mage who wants to simply pass through that territory is allowed to do so under the Right of Passage, but they aren't allowed to perform magic in your territory without your permission. Violating that rule subjects the outsider to penalties under Consilum law, which usually amount to paying some kind of reparations to the owner of the Sanctum. This rule is especially important if the Sanctum is near some resource or Mystery other mages are interested in. Actually violating a registered Sanctum is a huge no-no - the sort of crime that will have you bound in servitude to the cabal that controls that Sanctum for a year or more. This isn't much of a mechanical effect, but having other, more powerful mages coming to the door of the PCs' Sanctum to ask permission to study the small arcane distortion in the basement of the library a few blocks away had an immediate impact on the way they viewed their territory, so it was therefore a much bigger deal when they realized they would have to execute a ritual within the territory of a cabal whose enmity they had earned over the course of several stories.

                A secret Sanctum doesn't come with the legal protections, but it is not a matter of public record and will never be accidentally stumbled upon without supernatural powers coming into play. Further, spells that attempt to locate or spy upon the Sanctum and those within it suffer a Potency penalty equal to the Sanctum dots. As with the general effect, this reflects the many veils the Sanctum's owners have erected around the Sanctum without requiring the players to painstakingly design those defenses instead of, you know, pursuing Mysteries.

                Both mechanical effects can instead be rendered as a Clash of Wills instead of a Potency penalty, but as a story matter, if the cabal buys a Sanctum, rival mages shouldn't generally risk attacking it. If it's a secret Sanctum, it simply isn't found. If registered, other mages defer to the PCs when pursuing the Mysteries within the territory near the Sanctum. An attack on the Sanctum therefore becomes a rare and momentous event. In the chronicle I ran, the PCs' Sanctum was attacked exactly once, early in the game, by a more powerful mage who did not realize that the formerly abandoned Sanctum had new masters, and the Sanctum's protections played an important role in their victory. After that, I didn't see much point in striking them at home when I could draw them out to defend concerns that lay outside the Sanctum walls. And they were much less apt to try kicking down the doors of mages who pissed them off. In that chronicle, Sanctums were Serious Business, and you didn't mess with those of other mages unless you wanted your nose bloodied.

                As a caveat, this adjustment makes Sanctum an incredibly valuable Merit when compared to other Merits, so it probably works best when you *want* them to be deeply invested in that Sanctum and when you expect Sanctums to play an important role in the chronicle as a whole. Because they're gonna throw five dots into Sanctum without question. And they might well chip in for a second, secret Sanctum where they can perform the ritual spells they'd rather the Consilium not find out about.

                Onyx Path Freelancer and Fantasy Author


                • #9
                  The only mechanically useful things I'm seeing about the merit in this thread are all house rules. That kind of says a lot.

                  As a concept, having a Sanctum is cool. As written, the Sanctum Merit is mechanically near-worthless in my experience, since you don't have to have it in order to create a Demesne (and if you did it would just be a tax, not useful in and of itself) and because the extra Spell Control goes away when you leave. If I was going to houserule it to make it more useful, I might take some of the changes that Eric discussed, or allow the Sanctum to 'hold' spells in its bonus spell control much like a Sleepwalker Banner-Bearer can, so that you can actually retain the benefit when you leave.


                  • #10
                    I think the big usefulness of Sanctum's extra spells shows best when the players are investigating a mysterious object that's potentially quite dangerous. Having the ability to cast extra spells for protection, investigation, and warding can be quite useful. Same goes for summoning/binding a spirit or similar entity, where you might want as many wards and investigative spells as possible.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by lnodiv View Post
                      The only mechanically useful things I'm seeing about the merit in this thread are all house rules. That kind of says a lot.
                      For the gulf in playstyle between the game as written and the people looking for Sanctums to be "useful" in the sense of "acts as a grounding zone for otherwise-unrelated individual spells," sure, but this is a Merit that modifies a Safe Place and that you can literally get dots in for free with Status in magical society.

                      Vampire Havens give you a safe place to sleep where you wake up more easily, can stay awake longer, and are generally more aware; Promethean Hovels give you a place that you can stick around without gradually poisoning the surrounding locale and dampen your Azoth to a safer level without being locked into that reduction for a whole day; Hollows and Boltholes aren't quite in the same category of Merit, but they both still offer all of their actual benefits in terms that don't really extend beyond the space itself (Bolthole's Arsenal option comes close but is limited in scope). There's a pattern here.

                      As a place explicitly for the purposes of practicing the Art and the specific location-based anchor for a Demesne, a Sanctum is simply not the kind of secure location for which "gain the equivalent of one or two important NPCs' worth of safe spell-maintenance" exists.

                      Resident Sanguinary Analyst
                      Currently Consuming: Changeling: the Lost 1e


                      • #12
                        I think Awakened Merits were always going to be tricky to balance.

                        If you're aiming for pure, mechanical cost/benefit balance, then a 5-dot Merit has to be *better* than buying an Arcanum dot. That's...a tall order. Every other splat, the powers are incredibly narrow when compared to an Arcanum dot, each of which offers 4-10 separate spells (not counting the ones you make up during play using the Practices). To tempt players who tend to consider effectiveness over flavor when spending XP, a Merit has to be something special enough to be worth delaying a bump in an Arcanum by a gaming session. If you build Awakened Merits on the "one-quarter of an Arcanum dot" scale, you get powerful homebrew Awakened Merits like the version of Sanctum I described. Moreover, those stronger Merits usually demand more word count than what is sustainable in a printed rule book. The resultant Awakened Merits make many of those Mundane Merits look sad and weak by comparison. Professional Training 4? Might as well flush that XP down the toilet raising an Attribute, amiright (who even does that)?

                        Alternately, you can balance them against Mundane Merits that have slightly exotic prerequisites. This is more in line with what other game lines have done. Awakened Merits are not more powerful than other Merits. They're just geared toward mages and interact with the mechanics unique to the Awakened. In that model, being able to use your Sanctum as a special ritual space where you bring your subjects for deep study (so that they can escape! Or get wildly out of control! Or tie up "ghost" spell slots so that you're less able to deal with trouble when you leave your Sanctum to pick up a pizza!) makes perfect sense. In this model, players grab Merits because they do something nifty that tends to define who a character is in a way that Fate 3, Matter 1, Time 2 doesn't. You're the wizard with a Destiny or the one with the fuzzy Resonance or the one with the ever-so-mysterious Artifact.

                        I think both approaches have, um, merits, but the second tends to win out in official materials, while the first tends to attract enthusiastic homebrewers. I'm personally prone to fiddle with systems until they reflect the style of play I want to see at my table and which I know my regular gaming group will most enjoy (fancy that from a fairly prolific CofD freelancer!). However, I'm also aware that some folks *want* Awakened Merits to be more like the first approach than they are but don't have the confidence and/or time to mess with the mechanics the way I and other homebrewers do (sometimes even when I have no immediate plans to run that game). And I know it can sometimes be frustrating when the mechanics of a game don't work in a way that makes sense to you.

                        So I'm...sympathetic? And I'm happy to chime in with the things I've built for my own chronicles, from time to time. And I'm always interested to see how others adapt the mechanics to their needs! But that doesn't mean that Sanctum RAW is under-powered, much less useless. But it's scaled to other Merit dots, not to "a quarter of an Arcanum dot." My group being what my group is, the Merit suggestions I post are likely to reflect more of the "quarter Arcanum dot" approach to the exercise.

                        The standing spell slot house rule is a nice and simple one - takes the existing mechanic and strips out a limitation that might be difficult or annoying to track during play. That being said, I think Satchel is correct to point out that the Sanctum Merit is about *place*. Perhaps the extra spells must be confined to the Sanctum itself?

                        I also like the idea of allowing a certain number of cheap, safely relinquished spells to float around within the confines of the Sanctum so that the cabal can set up standing defenses. Perhaps set it at one spell per Merit dot, and anyone in the cabal can spend a point of Willpower to replace one of the current spells with a new one. It's a bit more complex than my version, but it has the potential to make assailing a rival's Sanctum feel more like challenging an opponent to a game of chess than it is like assaulting a bunker that is equally hardened to all arcane attacks.

                        Has anyone experimented with spin-off Merits that give Sanctum additional benefits or effects? I worked up a whole bunch of Magical Style Merits (Praxist, Scrivener, Reliquist, Ritualist, etc.), and one of them (Pride of Place) only provided its benefits within the mage's Sanctum, for example.

                        Onyx Path Freelancer and Fantasy Author


                        • #13
                          I think that the intent behind these houserules is this:

                          Both Mages and their players may reasonably want to secure their Sanctums with every Spell they can. In fact, not doing so makes their characters foolish. However, to do that players either have to dedicate Spell slots they could be having fun with in the field, or they have to spend multiple willpower Dots as tax. In either case, the players could feel this cost doesn't offer commensurate satisfaction from the game. The most common houserule fixes this, and I thought it was always assumed that the additional Spell slots had to be dedicated to the Sanctum itself.

                          Find my Homebrew Fangs of Mara 2ed update Here


                          • #14
                            If you want spells invested in your Sanctum, then why aren’t you using the benefits of Safe Place to represent that?


                            • #15
                              To clarify my earlier stance, I think a large portion of the problem is the overlap between the benefits of a Demesne and a Sanctum, combined with the fact that the two are not mechanically interdependent.

                              This situation leads to Sanctum itself being rather underwhelming, but making them interdependent would just turn it into a tax. The more I think about it, the more I think that a Sanctum's primary benefit should have been something else entirely besides Spell Control, but I'm having trouble thinking of what it could be while still enforcing the themes it's supposed to.